Earlier this week I started fully processing the grief that has been piling up in me over the past year. A combination of losing so many people, who mean so much to me, manifested itself into an anxiety attack, my first in several years. As I came down from the attack a friend gave me the gentle nudge I needed.
“Maybe you should start meditating.”
I think in the age of Lululemon-esque, green juice, neo-spiritualism “meditating” is a practice that gets thrown around a lot. At times it can seem like a default response for “I don’t know how to support your mental health right now”. But, you see, I have a degree in an East Asian philosophy, one that consisted of studying the Shōbōgenzō, following the teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh, and meditating regularly. Meditation and yoga were both in my daily repertoire until two to three years ago. This gentle nudge was a nudge not into something new, not into a catch-all formulaic response, but back into my center. Back into my homeostasis.
The next day I drafted a potential new blog post. A few of the notes I jotted down for myself: yin yoga, daily meditation, journaling, breathwork, psychologist visits. Each came with a question mark. A C-curve and a dot that was the text version of the “Will this actually work?” question that I had been asking myself since I first knew I was off-kilter. As I scrawled into my journal that night I asked the universe for some sign or path, something to help me with the first step.
Tuesday morning brought that sign I was looking for. An Alchemy Workshop put on by 3rd Ritual, a Taoist meditation company that I’d met a few months prior, was being advertised on the founder’s Instagram. It was described as a “brain bath” and Jenn, the founder of 3rd Ritual, had one guest spot left. I messaged her immediately and got the last spot. It felt like a perfect answer to the question I had been quietly asking myself for weeks.
One of the first things Jenn said was that this ritual was a “sacred pause”. The phrase hit me like an earthquake. I haven’t been taking a single pause in the past year, out of an unconscious fear of the emotions that can come in the slow moments. After an introduction to the space and practice, we all took a few breaths together during a short meditation and then introduced ourselves, sharing our name and something we have that we didn’t have last year. I immediately had two thoughts, one easy and one honest. The easy answer is the ability to make things, specifically my new sourdough fixation, but I chose to share the honest answer: grief. This past year taught me what it is to truly experience genuine loss. Not the loss of a job or relationship, but the real and raw loss of someone you love. After introductions, it was time for the ritual.
The ritual itself was divided into three parts, each addressing a different facet of ourselves. The body, the mind, and the spirit.
We addressed the body through a gentle yin yoga flow, repeating postures evenly on the left and right. When I was regularly practicing yoga, under the very energetic and dynamic Ashtanga style, I was bending myself into pretzels and balancing on my forearms with ease. But it has been a long time since I practiced and the challenge presented with adho mukha svanasana was humbling. It also forced me to focus deeply on my physical body and anchored me to the “here and now” of the ritual.
Moving onto the mind we did a writing exercise, based on “looking in the rearview mirror”. Starting with a “Less” column we wrote out all the things we had experienced in the past year (or several years) that we wanted less of in the future. I wrote several things, but the two that jumped out to me are “Guilt, Self-Blame” and “Avoidance, Hiding Tough Emotions”. Moving 200 miles from my family at the start of 2019, just a couple months after we received two stage four diagnoses, has weighed on me for the past year. At the same time as processing this self-blame and guilt over the move, I’ve been hiding a lot of these emotions. From others and from myself. As my family lost people this year I tried to remain stoic, knowing that we likely had more loss just a few months away. In an effort to protect myself from grief I hid from truly feeling. I want less of that. Less of postponing how I feel to make others comfortable or out of a personal fear of feeling raw emotions. To close the “Less” column we closed our eyes, filled with as much breath as we could, and released the “Less” through several, group-wide deep exhales. The only word to describe it: cathartic.
The second piece of addressing the mind was creating a “More” column, based not on all our wants from the future, but again informed by our past experiences. This list was evenly as long as my my “Less” column, but more centering to write. “Journaling, Tidyness Throughout the home, Introspection, Allowing Myself to Feel”. My favorite one, the one that first came to my mind, is “museum days”. One of my absolute favorite things to do with him, and something we’ve been doing since our first few months of dating (when we were too broke to do anything else we would spend afternoons taking advantage of DC’s free museums). It’s one of the things that makes me feel most full in our relationship. Other things were centered around what keeps me calm and relaxed, a large focus of mine lately.
The final third of the ritual was dedicated to the spirit, caring for it with a free-flowing painting session. Starting with a center dot, representing each of us, we filled in the surrounding space with all the things we want to keep close to us. Friends and family, goals, hopes, anything. The gentle chime of 3rd Ritual’s Bel drew the ritual to an end.
We closed with savasana, aromatherapy, and a Jenn gently speaking through the parable of the two travelers.
After the workshop last night I wouldn’t say I felt healed, but that wasn’t the point. What I did feel is radically changed. Like a few of the grains of the mountain that’s been weighing me down had been lifted. Last night was the first step I had been asking for. It truly was a sacred pause from all the buzzing that’s been going on in my head lately and a beautiful way to welcome me back to myself and have a moment of calm.